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US Denies Going Soft on China on Human Rights

The Bush administration is rejecting charges from human rights groups that it is going soft on China by opting not to pursue a resolution critical of Beijing at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. U.S. officials say they were able to get concessions from China in return for forgoing a resolution.

Officials here are bristling at the criticism from human rights groups, insisting that the Bush administration was able to extract important concessions in return for not pursuing a China resolution in Geneva that stood no chance of approval in any case.

The United States has sought a condemnation of China at the U.N. Human Rights Commission almost every year since the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, though China has managed to side-track every one of those resolutions.

The Bush administration confirmed Thursday it will not seek to censure China this year, citing the release of Muslim Uighur rights advocate Rebiya Kadeer and a number of other concessions officials say China made in the run-up to the Geneva meeting, which opened Monday.

The decision drew a caustic reaction from leading human rights groups, including the New York-based Human Rights Watch, which said the administration had failed to take a principled stance.

However at a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the administration had used the threat of presenting a resolution as a tool to obtain concrete actions to address U.S. human rights concerns, and that any suggestion that it was going soft on China is flatly wrong. "I would reject that categorically. We are being very determined and consistent in actively seeking improvement and change and positive movement. And the steps that China took yesterday are indications, I think, that our policy and our engagement is producing results," he said.

Senior officials who spoke to reporters here said that even though China has been able to prevent U.S. resolutions from being approved in Geneva, it finds the annual exercise deeply embarrassing.

They said U.S. diplomats had used the shelving of this year's resolution as leverage to get the release of Ms. Kadeer, as well as other commitments by China. Those include extending rights to parole and sentence reductions to political prisoners, and promises to accept visits by U.N. investigators on torture and religious freedom.

The United States had long sought the release of Rebiya Kadeer, jailed since 1999 on charges of endangering state security for sending Chinese newspaper clippings to her husband, a U.S.-based Uighur activist.

Her parole on medical grounds came in advance of the visit to China by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice due to begin Sunday.

Amnesty International, while welcoming the release, said it was tactically timed for the Rice visit, and an exercise in hostage politics.

It also said the Bush administration's decision on a China resolution would undermine its own arguments against the lifting of the European Union arms embargo against China.

Human Rights Watch noted that the State Department's own report in human rights world-wide, issued less than three weeks ago, had strongly condemned China's human rights record.

It said that to suggest that that record had improved enough to escape even a discussion at the U.N. Human Rights Commission is inexplicable and unfortunate.